Hear about travel to Saudi Arabia as the Amateur Traveler talks to Flo Müller from the FLO youtube channel about travel to this rapidly changing country.
Saudi Arabia has been a popular destination for Muslims for more than a millennia because of the Hajj, but the country announced new tourism visas in 2019 for non-Muslims, and Flo was one of the earliest travelers on that visa.
Flo says, “It opened up its tourism visa at the end of September. Everything is very new there. For me, it was the interesting part going to a country where tourism hasn’t really been part of the history in the last years. Saudi Arabia, there is so much to talk about. First of all landscape, we always think about Saudi Arabia: desert, oil, and camels. Those are the first words that came to mind. But landscape-wise there is so much more to see. You have the sea, you have the mountains, you have the oasis. Then history-wise, you have a lot of ancient kingdoms coming from there. The history of Islam being from there. One of the biggest reasons I went to Saudi Arabia was the hospitality of the people. I heard such amazing things about that.”
Flo found the people as hospitable as he had heard starting with the Uber driver who picked him up from the airport who took a break from the heavy traffic of Riyadh to stop and buy Flo a box of oranges as a gift.
Riyadh is a surprisingly large and busy city but there is still an old core of the city built around the Masmak fort. There are also many tall buildings like the Kingdom Center and air-conditioned malls. Flo recommends a day trip from Riyadh to get out into the desert and visit the towering cliffs of the “Edge of the World” (Jebel Fihrayn).
Flo made many of his plans while in the country because of a lack of good tourism information. He recommends a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Mada’in Saleh (Al-Hijr Archaeological Site), which was part of the Nabatean kingdom as was Jordan’s Petra.
Non-Muslims cannot visit Mecca which is the holiest city in Islam, but they can visit Medina which is where the prophet is buried. You cannot enter the Prophetic Mosque (Al-Masjid an-Nabaw?) but you can peer in from the entrance. Do be aware that they take the call to prayer seriously in Medina as Flo learned when he needed to leave a restaurant as it closed for one of the five daily prayer times. Make your plans accordingly.
By comparison to Medina, Flo found the gateway city of Jeddah to have a more international character as people have settled here from all over the Muslim world. You will find many women without a headscarf in Jeddah but you would not see that in Medina. The old town of Jeddah, Al-Balad, is another UNESCO World Heritage site.
Give this show a listen and see if you might also be interested in visiting this country that had until recently not been open to non-Muslims.
Tuwaiq (Edge of The World)
The Edge of The World Tours
Boulevard – The New Luxury Destination In Jeddah
List of gravity hills
Al Wahbah crater
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